13 May Goodwill’s Forklift Training Launched Career For Struggling Veteran
Sylvester Groves drove tanks as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, but he faced his toughest battle as a civilian during the Great Recession.
After a decade in the military, the Nashville-area native worked private-sector jobs, including one as the manager of a cleaning company. But between 2007-2010, both the U.S. economy and Sylvester suffered major setbacks.
“I messed up and got a felony,” he recalls. “No one was hiring. The best I could do was temp jobs for more than three years. I couldn’t find anyone willing to give me a chance.”
A friend told Sylvester he should try Goodwill. In February of 2011, he applied for a position as a sorter in the Salvage Department at Goodwill’s Berry Road facility.
Even before beginning in his new position, he was sent to take Goodwill’s Forklift Training. The one-day training session, which is available to Goodwill’s employees and clients, is for anyone interested in obtaining a forklift operator position in the warehousing or manufacturing industries. The class is offered in Nashville, Cookeville and Jackson.
The instructor-led class involves both classroom work and hands-on training using a forklift. Students who complete the program receive a training credential and job-placement assistance. More than 2,000 people have completed the program in the last five years.
“This training opens a lot of doors for people,” said instructor Madi. “Learning how to safely operate a forklift is a really easy way to get a job, but for a lot of people it’s also a way to get a better job. They can go from working on the line in a warehouse to making a lot more money as a forklift driver.”
The program certainly opened doors for Sylvester. The former tank driver had no trouble passing both the written and hands-on tests and earning his certificate. Three months into his job as a sorter, he was moved into a better-paying position as a forklift operator.
Sylvester learned all he could about Goodwill’s warehouse and operations. He took his duties very seriously, meticulously following the procedures he’d learned in the forklift training program.
“Operating a forklift is an important job, and it’s a demanding job — we move a lot of merchandise,” he explains. “You’ve got to be very safety-conscious, because you don’t want to hit anyone. That piece of equipment can hurt people and do a lot of damage if it’s operated recklessly.”
Sylvester’s reputation as a forklift driver grew, and he was put in charge of providing the hands-on instruction in the Forklift Training Program. He served in that role for four years, training hundreds of people.
Today, Sylvester is a shift leader in the Salvage Department at Goodwill’s Cockrill Bend facility in West Nashville, helping oversee the warehouse team and operations. He still drives a forklift daily, but he also operates a variety of other warehouse machinery.
“Sylvester is a wonderful employee and a great example of how Goodwill’s mission works by giving people a second chance,” says Mary Stockett, Goodwill’s director of secondary markets. “He’s also an example of how our training programs give people skills necessary to move into meaningful, long-lasting careers.”
Now 61, Sylvester says he hopes to work at Goodwill until he retires. He loves his job, and in 2020, he became a homeowner for the first time.
“Goodwill gave me an opportunity to have employment after I got in trouble. And then once I started with Goodwill, I saw there was a chance to move up,” he says. “That changed my life.”